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Posts published in “Day: December 25, 2021”

The fightin’ 6th

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When Stephen Colbert hosted his satiric political talk show some years back he often profiled a congressional district somewhere around the country, describing its particular characteristics and enthusiastically declaring it the “Fighting 17th!”. Or whatever it was.

Built into the gag was the idea, often valid, that a given congressional district actually has specific and unique character apart from the red-blue political. It would be a place where people have something in common, and maybe have a shared history.

That would be difficult to find anywhere a brand new congressional district is being formed, as one will be this the coming year in Oregon.

That new district, owing to population growth reflected in the 2020 census, will be the 6th. (As for the politics, in 2020 the new 6th’s precincts voted about 55.2% for Joe Biden and 42.1% for Donald Trump.)

Some of Oregon’s districts - referring here to those just created for the next decade - do have a nature that allows for an easy shorthand description. The 2nd district is easy: the vast wide open and mostly arid spaces of eastern and part of southwestern Oregon, primarily agricultural economically. (Geographically, it is one of the largest congressional districts in the country.) The 3rd is almost as easy: A central Portland urban area with some Columbia River frontage to the east. The 1st is more split between central city and suburbia (in Washington County) and more rural river and Pacific Ocean frontage. The 4th includes the smaller Eugene and Corvallis urban areas together with more thinly populated areas southwest to the ocean. The first is heavily Republican, the other three clearly Democratic.

The remaining two districts are more complicated, and they will be at least in theory the most politically competitive (which makes them unusual nationwide).

The revised 5th district, which has run from south Portland to below Salem with an arm reaching west to the Pacific, will include most of its old core area but lose Salem and the coast and swing its arm instead across the Cascades to pick up the Bend area.

The brand new 6th district will run from southwest Portland with a slice of Washington County, south through Yamhill, and include the Salem area. The new 6th, then (somewhat like the 5th), will include three distinct pieces: The Portland metro piece (on the southwest side, including Tigard, Tualatin and Sherwood); Yamhill and Polk counties, which include rural areas and small and mid-sized cities, and the Salem area, a mid-sized urban area with an identity distinct from the other two.

Most of the land area will be in Yamhill and Polk counties, but more than two-thirds of the votes will come from urbanized Washington and Marion.

This is a geographically coherent area (Highway 99 runs like a string through the middle of most of it, except Salem) but most people here probably won’t think it fits together.

The northern reach near Portland, where almost half of the people live, think of themselves as Portland metro people and may be a little discomfited jostled in with those non-urbanites. This region will have a large chunk of the population, but less than half - not enough to control outcomes.

Salem and Keiser together have a little more than 200,000 people, and will make up a little less than a third of the new district - fewer than the Washington County area, but also enough to make a big difference.

And the Yamhill and Polk County areas (except for the piece of Salem within Polk) see themselves as separate from either Portland or Salem. Yamhill and Polk together have almost 200,000 people, but about 25,000 of those Polk people are in West Salem. Smaller-town Polk and Yamhill make up about a quarter of the new district.

These are three distinct constituencies, and all have enough people that a candidate will ignore any of them at their peril.

That can be a good thing. The new 6th isn’t likely to be a district encouraging or even allowing (in its representative) much extremism of any sort. The need to work with varied constituencies may lead to a respect for compromise.

If the 6th becomes a “fightin’ 6th,” that may be because it holds its low-level fights on an internal and low-key basis, and rewards representation that’s steady and stable. Maybe that’s an optimistic view, but it’s what the numbers and geography seem to say.
 

All the shining gifts

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The satirical website The Onion recently featured this in one of its “fake” news bulletins: “White House Warns Supply Chain Shortages Could Lead Americans to Discover True Meaning of Christmas.”

What a concept.

Around all the phony talk about “a war on Christmas” and given the excesses of the online buying orgy that is “Black Friday,” it does us well to pause, reflect and remember what we celebrate just as winter begins and we creep toward a New Year.

I usually try to find time around Christmas to re-read some favorite things and re-watch some favorite movies. It helps to make the season bright.

I’ll read again the Christmas scene in Willa Cather’s remarkable Death Comes for the Archbishop, a book that creates “a luminous calm” as we enter the life of a priest struggling to bring the religion of the old world to a new world.

Bishop Latour comes to his dining room for his Christmas dinner and after a prayer joins Father Joseph for the first course, “a dark onion soup with croutons.” The bishop tastes, “critically,” Cather says, and then smiles at his companion. The soup is wonderful. The moment is blissful. The companionship sublime.

“When one thinks of it,” the bishop says, “a soup like this in not the work of one man. It is the result of a constantly refined tradition. There are nearly a thousand years of history in this soup.”

What a wonderful way to think about what will grace your table this Christmas.

Speaking of bishops, I will watch – we always watch – the 1947 film The Bishop’s Wife, a wonderful little movie that features Cary Grant, David Niven and Loretta Young. The bishop’s Christmas sermon will make you forget any supply chain issues.

I’ll find the time to read again – I always do – James Joyce’s The Dead, not strictly speaking a Christmas story, but a perfect little tale set at the feast of the Epiphany, celebrating the evidence of Christ’s divinity to the Magi. Joyce’s novella is, of course, loaded with characters and images and meaning not the least being the exploration of the divide we all face between life and death.

Better it is, Joyce tells us, to “pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age.”

I’ll spend some holiday time remembering, like Dickens, my Christmas past. I have an enduring memory of an uncle of mine – my mother’s brother – being the first person I ever knew who had an artificial Christmas tree. My mother was too proper to say so, and I know these fake trees are now all the rage with millennials, but she was appalled by that tree. Me, too. Still am.

Mom was so passionate about the perfect “real” tree that she would, if necessary, make her tree just right by carefully grafting a spare branch into a bare spot on the tree, tying the evergreen with black thread to hold it in place.

I can still see my dad at the Christmas tree lot holding the eighth or fifteenth or thirtieth candidate tree for mom’s inspection. That one is too bare on the left. This one too tall. That one too squat. Ah, that might do.

That cheesy, silver tree of my uncle’s came in a box. You snapped it together limb-by-limb and then illuminated it with a groaning rotating light that changed color. It was hideous, which makes the memory of my mother stringing lights, placing ornaments and hanging tinsel all the richer.

Family legend held that we developed the tradition of exchanging presents on Christmas Eve the year after my older brother woke up the household at 4:00 am on Christmas morning tearing into his gifts. As my brother and I grew older the Santa Claus visitation was always arranged while dad took us to “run an errand” or look at Christmas lights in the neighborhood.

Like a visit from Marley’s ghost, I can clearly see the living room, mom’s tree, my Christmas stocking and my brother’s and the little Christmas figures she would haul out every year.

In so many ways for so many people it has been another brutal year – a pandemic that will not end, a political system riven with senseless partisanship, a lack of good faith everywhere you turn. The notion of the greater good, the common interest, a commitment to others before self seems as dead as Scrooge’s old business partner Jacob Marley.

I like the Dickens Christmas sentiment best of all. In the great scene in A Christmas Carol where Scrooge encounters the ghost of his former business partner, he tells the ghost that he had once been a great businessman. Marley’s disagreeing response is, in many ways, the essence of the story, the essence of Christmas.

“Mankind was my business,” Marley says. “The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

Let all of us this Christmas make humankind our business. It is, after all, the birthday of the prince of peace we celebrate. Supply chains and tinsel should not get in the way of that.

What would He wish for? Not division, not strife or hunger or intolerance or unkindness. He would celebrate life and love and ask that we remember – and live accordingly – able to embrace the little things that make a fleeting life larger and better.

“All the shinning gifts,” as David Niven’s Bishop Brougham says, “that make peace on earth.”

Here’s to all those memories and to a better tomorrow. Happy Christmas.